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The Stainless Steel Rat
by Harry Harrison (Orion, £4.99, 185 pages, paperback; published 1961, this edition 1997.)
The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge
by Harry Harrison (Orion, £4.99, 199 pages, paperback; published 1971, this edition 1997.)
The Stainless Steel Rat goes to Hell
by Harry Harrison (Orion, £5.99, 245 pages, paperback; published 1996, this edition 1998.)

Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat grew out of the late fifties' penchant for tales of superspies (James Bond) or rakish rascals with a criminal bent (the Saint). Slippery Jim diGriz was very much the Bond/Saint characters writ large, with a backdrop of galaxy-wide human colonisation of Outer Space. Leavened with a large dollop or two of sly and wicked humour, the Stainless Steel Rat went from master criminal to inter-Galactic cop, and switched back and forward between the two in all his subsequent adventures. These three reprints cover four decades, since the first, The Stainless Steel Rat, started life as short stories in 1957 before becoming the fix-up novel reprinted here in 1961. Despite its age, the story still holds up well, apart from the unfortunate inclusion of references to 'punch card computers', a slight hiccup in Harrison's future extrapolations.

The first volume details Slippery Jim's capture by the Special Corps after a spectacular life of crime, his induction into their ranks and his first case. This brings him into contact with the beautiful but deadly Angeline, a criminal after his own heartcover scan in all ways but one -- she doesn't draw the line at murder in the way diGriz does. But diGriz still finds her devilishly attractive.

By The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge, Angeline is a reformed character, of a sort, and plotting to tie the nuptial knot with Slippery Jim. Trouble is, that will bring them back to the attention of Special Corps, whose boss has a very special job in line for the Rat -- investigating a planet that is staging successful interstellar invasions, something everyone else had thought was impossible.

By the time of The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell, diGriz and Angeline have two grown twin sons, also inducted into the family business. Slippery Jim and Angeline are enjoying a well earned rest on a paradise planet when Angeline goes missing, leaving behind only a pool of blood and a severed hand (fortunately neither belonging to Angeline), and the ruins of a temple belonging to a cult offering sneak previews of Heaven. DiGriz calls in his sons, and together they use the resources of Special Corps to trace Angeline, encountering a resourceful and formidable enemy along the way.

All three books display Harry Harrison's smooth but robust writing to the full. The plots scream along at breakneck speed, the characters are absurd caricatures, the action is fast and furious, and the humour embedded in the situations rather than overlaid as feeble jokes. All in all, the Stainless Steel Rat is wearing extremely well even forty years on. Great fun.


Review by John D Owen.

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© John D Owen 3 April 1999